Oscar Pistorius: Final Verdict

Judge Masipa has finished reading her verdict in the Oscar Pistorius trial. He is not guilty of murder but guilty of culpable homicide. She found him guilty of one count of negligent handling of a firearm (the one that went off in the restaurant) and not guilty of another firearm charge (shooting through his sunroof.) She found him not guilty of illegal possession of ammunition.

I think she was very thorough and her ruling on the homicide charge was correct. Recap of her ruling below. (For yesterday's verdict reading, see here.) [More...]

1:45 am MT: The judge is on the bench and starts reading her verdict. She begins with Count 2, a firearm charge related to Oscar's shooting his gun through the sunroof. Samantha Taylor and another friend were in the vehicle and testified. The witnesses' versions were very different. Oscar denied shooting the gun through the open sunroof. She reviews both the state and defense arguments on the charge. She says she will scrutinize the witnesses' statements.

The only thing the witnesses' accounts had in common was that they both said a shot had been fired. Fresno was a dishonest witness. He lied. Mendacity on one aspect does not necessarily mean the rest of the evidence is tainted. It means caution is warranted. However, Fresno could not say where the incident happened. He said he could point it out to the police. Under cross, he stated when he was he was taken to the scene, he could only point it out after the cop had driven him past it four times. Taylor was a jilted girlfriend who claimed the relationship ended when Oscar cheated on her. Still, that just means her testimony must be viewed with caution.

Taylor's version has a ring of truth but that isn't the end of the matter. It's whether the state proved it beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defendant has no onus to prove his innocence. He denied the charge. The state's witnesses contradicted each other on crucial elements. The evidence falls short of the required standard. The state failed to prove Oscar guilty on this count. He is acquitted.

Next gun count: when Oscar shot his gun in the restaurant. A friend gave Oscar the firearm under the table and told him there was a bullet in the chamber. It went off within minutes. He asked if everyone was fine. He later asked the friend to take the blame for the discharge. When the owners approached, the friend told them it had fallen off his trousers. It was lunchtime and the restaurant was crowded. Oscar admitted asking his friend to see the firearm as he was going to buy a similar model. He testified he didn't know it was loaded. The shot went off accidentally.

In her view, it doesn't matter what caused the gun to go off. No one has alleged intent. Oscar may not have intentionally pulled the trigger, but that doesn't absolve him of negligently handling the firearm in a situation where it posed a risk.

She mentions witness Kevin Larina, and says he was not biased. His testimony is accepted. She accepts the evidence of the restaurant owners. Oscar was sufficiently trained in the use of firearms which includes proper handling. This count is proved. Guilty.

Count 4: Unlawful possession of ammunition at his house. State must prove Oscar had the necessary mens rea -- the intent to possess a firearm or ammunition (here, ammunition.) For example, if a person who has no license for a firearm, were to pick up a gun someone had left behind solely to return it, he would not be guilty. Oscar said the ammunition belonged to his father and that he didn't mean to possess it. The state needed to present evidence to the contrary. It did not do so, so Oscar's version in uncontroverted. He's acquitted.

In conclusion:

  • Murder Count 1: Not guilty. She recites her reasons from yesterday and is even stronger that the evidence supported Oscar's version and the state failed to prove its case. He's also not guilty through application of dolus eventualis. She cites a legal treatise and case law. But, she says, he was negligent, and therefore is guilty of culpable homicide.
  • Count 2: Firearm (sunroof): Not Guilty
  • Count 3: Firearm (restaurant): Guilty
  • Count 4: Ammunition possession: Not Guilty

Sentencing will be at a later date. I don't see any reason his bond won't continue.

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  • Display: Sort:
    This case, by its very nature, (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by NYShooter on Sat Sep 13, 2014 at 05:29:30 PM EST
    was going to be based on circumstantial evidence. Many, many cases are decided  on circumstantial evidence, and, I think that's been overlooked by some here who are poring such, imo, unwarranted praise on this judge's "fairness" and, meticulous detail in rendering her verdict.

    When you don't have irrefutable, forensic evidence, or, eyewitness accounts, decisions should be based on an accumulation of "normal man" evidence. Using the standard this justice employed a murder conviction was never a possibility, and, thus, shouldn't have been charged.

    I'm not going to go through all the details of the trial, but, it seems to me that in each case where common sense was the only evidence, she required "absolute proof." She decided that the people who testified, under oath, that they heard what they felt was a woman screaming, didn't know what they were talking about.

    I've been involved in life or death situations, both, in wartime, and, in civilian life. Pistorius's behavior that night doesn't fit, rationally, into either circumstance. While I don't think it was premeditated murder the idea that it was a case of "mistaken identity" is just ludicrous.

    Of course, people do irrational things. However, in this case, where an accumulation of circumstantial evidence was going to be the determinant from the beginning, it just seems to me that this judge bought every incredible, outlier, suspended logic claim this defendant was selling.

    I think this was a fair verdict (4.50 / 2) (#2)
    by ruffian on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 05:06:36 AM EST
    As J has so thoroughly laid out, the most serious charges were not proven, and perhaps could not be proven given the circumstances even if the prosecutor had not been so arrogant.  But I strongly believe that killing people out of sudden fear with no threat evaluation cannot be permitted.

    I agree, Ruffian. (none / 0) (#7)
    by Green26 on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 09:55:29 AM EST
    Those are my thoughts too. Once again, Jeralyn pretty much nailed the outcome, i.e. the prosecutor had not met the burden to convict. Was interesting to learn about the South African criminal court process. Thanks to Jeralyn for all the good information and analysis, as well as to the various posters who made nice contributions and observations.

    Live feed: (none / 0) (#1)
    by Mr Natural on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 03:12:01 AM EST
    I've got a lot of respect for Judge Masipa. (none / 0) (#3)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 05:36:56 AM EST
    She did an outstanding job, and arrived at what I believe to be a fair and just verdict in this case.

    Thank you, Jeralyn.

    As usual (none / 0) (#14)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Sep 15, 2014 at 04:25:04 PM EST
    We are in complete agreement. The lady really stands out.

    Looks like the sentence (none / 0) (#4)
    by CoralGables on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 05:48:35 AM EST
    could vary anywhere from 0-20 years when combining the two guilty charges (did see one source that listed the possible total as 0-25).

    So there you go (none / 0) (#5)
    by Dadler on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 08:56:58 AM EST
    Can't say it was a surprise. But I will say, if he doesn't do significant jail time, it will be a wretched disgrace. Five years at the LEAST. Additionally, he should be sternly prohibited from EVER possessing a firearm again or even being near them. Pistorious has proven, without the Steenkamp killing, an utter danger to the general public, he is pathologically irresponsible and irrational with a gun in his hand. Make no mistake, he WILL harm someone else in the future if allowed to possess firearms.

    It's always seemed strange to me (none / 0) (#6)
    by fishcamp on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 09:09:07 AM EST
    that so many countries don't have trial by jury.  The judge just goes into the other room, thinks about it, and comes out to render the verdict.  Yes it does appear the judge is doing a good job but I'm glad I live here in the good old USA.  

    If it's a choice between some wise old (none / 0) (#10)
    by Mr Natural on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 11:00:21 AM EST
    Whoopi Goldberg and a jury comprised of some of the flakes I know, I'd choose the wise old woman.

    But you can't be sure you'll always (none / 0) (#12)
    by fishcamp on Sat Sep 13, 2014 at 06:36:51 AM EST
    get a wise old woman as a judge.  Naturally most judges are wise but we've seen some fairly stupid ones too.

    On the TV... (none / 0) (#8)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 10:41:32 AM EST
    ...the said overcrowding in prison is so bad that often people convicted of this crime serve no time.  Add in Pistorius' handicap, the fact that judge let him out on bond, and it seems unlikely he is going to do time.  They predicted house arrest so long as he keeps his nose clean.

    That would be another tragedy IMO.

    I can't find the clip, but it was the legal consultant the Today Show has in S Africa, making the prediction.


    It seems to me that the SA system, (none / 0) (#9)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 10:43:30 AM EST
    by which the judge is the ultimate deciderer, and in that role explains - for hours and hours - all the in-and-outs his/her decision, really helps to sidestep potential discord over the decision.

    As to the main decision the judge rendered, I think it's a mockery of justice. He intended to kill her, imo.

    However, due to the exhaustive explanation of the judge about why and how she made her decision, it's hard to feel any real outrage about it.

    Good point. (none / 0) (#11)
    by Mr Natural on Fri Sep 12, 2014 at 11:24:24 AM EST
    The careful explanation was interesting.  Do we get that here?  Nobody but a few insiders reads decisions or can read them, really, which seem to be jammed down our collective gullets from on high.

    Where is the line separating premeditation from impulse?  Is elapsed time an element?  Given the amount of moving around Oscar did before firing those shots, I think Oscar had plenty of time to move from sleepiness to full alertness, especially with the rush of adrenaline which in a normal human would attend any real fear of burglars in the bathroom.

    Maybe those bullets through the door weren't murderous.  Certainly they were intended to hurt someone.  In a reasoning state of mind a reasoning person would realize that they could grievously injure or kill someone on the other side of the door, especially given the extremely small area of the toilet room.

    The defense attorney did his job.  I'm guessing that part of Jeralyn's fascination with this case is that the contest rarely resolves to the defendant's benefit.  People aren't usually charged unless there's a pretty good chance they'll be convicted, railroaded, or plead.  Acquittals, even in this limited sense, are fairly rare and hard to achieve.